Jack Simplot, RIP

We grew up around the Simplots – stayed in McCall over the 4th of July many times when we were young to see the Simplots shoot off fireworks from their dock on the lake. They were spectacular, full of the ooohing and aaaahing. Jack was one of the local legends.


J.R. Simplot, a billionaire who grew up in a sod-roofed log cabin and dropped out of school at 14, then marshaled luck, spunk and inventiveness to fashion an entrepreneurial career that included developing the first commercial frozen french fry, died on Sunday at his home in Boise, Idaho. He was 99.

The death was announced by Larry Hlobik, president and chief executive of the Simplot Co.

Mr. Simplot became the 89th-richest American in Forbes magazine’s 2007 list ($3.6 billion) by seizing opportunities, then perceiving how one success could lead logically to the next.

An early profit on some pigs allowed him to become a potato farmer, which led to sorting and then processing potatoes. That led to building the largest potato-dehydrating plant in the world, which enabled him to supply much of the dried potatoes and vegetables consumed by U.S. troops in World War II.

He began mining phosphate to supply his own fertilizer. He shipped potatoes in boxes made from wood from his own forests. He fed leftover potato scraps to cattle that he kept on his vast ranches and huge feedlots.

There had been earlier efforts to develop an acceptable frozen french fry, but a new market opened up after World War II, when freezer compartments became standard in refrigerators. One of Mr. Simplot‘s researchers, Ray Dunlap, urged Mr. Simplot to give him a freeze box so he could practice freezing vegetables.

“Hell,” Mr. Simplot answered, according to an article in Range magazine in 1998, “you freeze spuds and they will go to mush.”

But Mr. Simplot bought Dunlap a large freezer anyway, and a few months later, Mr. Simplot tasted hot French fries that had been frozen. “My God, good product,” he said.

In the mid-1960s, Mr. Simplot signed a contract with Ray Kroc, who built McDonald’s into an empire, to supply fries to Kroc’s chain. Mr. Simplot promised to build an entire factory just for McDonald’s. The deal was sealed with a handshake.

Late in life, Mr. Simplot still regularly drove his Lincoln Town Car (he owned a dealership) to a McDonald’s outlet for an Egg McMuffin and hash browns or fries. The license plate on his car read Mr. Spud.

John Richard Simplot, usually called Jack, was born Jan. 4, 1909, in Dubuque, Iowa. After loading his pigs, chickens and horses in two boxcars, his father moved the family to Idaho to homestead when Jack was a year old.

At 14, Jack, by his own account, left home after his father refused to let him attend a basketball game. His mother gave him $20 in gold coins, and he moved into a $1-a-night hotel in a nearby town. There were teachers living in the hotel who were being paid in interest-bearing scrip. Jack bought them at 50 cents on the dollar and sold them to a bank for 90 cents on the dollar.

He used this profit to buy a rifle, an old truck and either 600 or 700 hogs (accounts vary) at $1 a head. He used the rifle to shoot wild horses, which – after stripping the hides for future sale at $2 each – he mixed with potatoes and cooked on sagebrush-fueled flames. The hogs ate the result. When he sold the fattened pigs, Mr. Simplot made more than $7,000.

That gave him capital to buy farm machinery and six horses and become a potato farmer. Next, he acquired half of an electric potato sorter with a partner. After they argued, they flipped a coin for full ownership. Mr. Simplot won, and expanded to all phases of the potato industry.

Within a decade, he was the largest shipper of potatoes in the West, with 33 warehouses in Oregon and Idaho.

Ultimately, his businesses included fertilizer, oil, animal feed, seed, beef cattle and ski resorts from Chile to China. The Idaho Statesman newspaper said he owned the nation’s largest cattle ranch, in Oregon.

A $1 million investment in two engineers working in the basement of a dentist’s office in Boise made Mr. Simplot the largest shareholder in Micron Technology Inc., a major manufacturer of computer memory chips. The first board meetings were held in a pancake house in Boise.

In the mid-1970s, Mr. Simplot was charged with trying to manipulate Maine potato futures. He was barred from commodities trading for six years and paid $50,000 in fines and an undisclosed amount to settle a lawsuit.

In 1977, he and his company each paid $40,000 in penalties for failing to report income to the Internal Revenue Service, and for claiming false deductions.

Mr. Simplot‘s first marriage to Ruby Rosevear ended in divorce. His son, Richard, died in 1993. He is survived by his wife, the former Esther Becker; two other sons, Don and Scott; his daughter, Gay; and several grandchildren.

The Statesman, in its obituary, detailed Mr. Simplot‘s almost ostentatiously modest style: He wore the same pair of glasses for 30 years and did not fix his car’s brakes because he did not want to spend the money.

But he liked to hobnob with celebrities and statesmen, including Ernest Hemingway and W. Averell Harriman, at the Sun Valley ski resort. He skied until he was 89, and did it with a style that Lowell Thomas, the writer and adventurer, once described thus:

“As he goes banging down the Sawtooth Mountains on skis, you hear him singing and laughing a half-mile away.”

Thursday, May 29, 2008

News in Brief

–==++   TopFive’s News Headlines   ++==–

Pentagon Orders 10,000 School-Crossing Guards to Iraq

ASPCA Investigates Hillary for Beating Dead Horse

Self-Immolators Switch From High Price Gasoline to Lighter Fluid

Vatican Reveals New Papal Hat With 46% More Point

Iraqi Sunnis Decry Shia LaBeouf

Credits: Jerry L. Embry (1), Dave Henry (2), Davejames (3,4),
Mark Neibuhr (5)

Send submissions to headlines@topfive.com


Ha ha. I can’t help but be amused that comcast got hacked.
Check it out

(click the pic to read it)

BTW, in case you noticed the Safari browser, it’s the hubby who found the hacked site and I figured the hacked page wouldn’t be there very long.  And I was right!  It’s got a Network Solutions holding page up there now.  I expect their IT department is a little busy at the moment.

A Hitch in my Getalong

So, is this blog taking as long to load for you as it is for me now that I’ve got that twitter thingie on the right, there? Seems painfully slow to me. If I get some Hell Yeahs I shall remove it.


Okay, I couldn’t stand to wait.  Besides, I don’t think the twitter feed did much good.

hur hur

There I am, cursing and throwing things and getting REALLY disturbed.
I’m trying to install a twitter badge on my blog. Should be easy, yes? Everybody’s got one now. I’ve been trying since ……. right around the time their database crashed this morning. Glad I went and looked at their blog.
What great timing I have! OTOH, I’m happy it wasn’t all me being an idiot.
Their poor server had too many people on it and it just went tits up. Sounds like they need a little clustering and load balancing. Clustering is NOT related clusterfuck, BTW. It’s much harder to do.

Here, this is funny:
responds to cheezburger, just like my dogs


The word for May 23 is staycation

A vacation that is spent at one’s home enjoying all that home and one’s home environs have to offer.

Due to gas being over $4.00 a gallon we’ll be enjoying the comforts of home during our staycation.


Mmm, Cherries

We have a cherry tree in the side yard. I can’t keep up with it. Last year, no problem because the wind had blown 90 percent of the blooms off the tree early in the year. This year, not. It’s loaded and drooping from all the fruit.

The dogs and I have developed a routine around eating cherries.  The new dog picked it right up.

I get home from work, head out to the cherry tree, and start eating whichever cherries are darkest. It’s hard to tell what’s what, because the sun is starting to set and the cherries against the sky all look darker than they are. I’m jumping the gun a little, because they’re mostly not that ripe. Doesn’t really matter, though, I eat them anyway, ’cause that’s how I roll.

The dogs follow me around and vie for the pits I spit. Can’t imagine why. But I guess that’s the way THEY roll. It’s funny to watch (and listen) to them rooting around crunching the pits. If this year follows last year’s pattern, in a day or two the dogs won’t be waiting for the pits, they’ll just graze the tree like deer and go for the cherries. Also very funny to watch.  I should get the husband to take a picture of us all grazing around the cherry tree.

You’ll be happy to know that the cherry tree is fenced off from the dogs during the day so they don’t graze themselves into a stomach ache or a stupor. Well, they do, but it’s only at night, when I’m doing the same thing.

Work thing

Two of my cohorts and I watched a webinar today. We projected it so we could all see.

It was a geek trying to introduce some new software for people who belong to his organization to use to update their information. My opinion: Geeks do better under the covers/hood, sales people do better giving the presentations. Now and again there are people who can do both, but they are few and far between.

Kyle is not one who can do both. I’m not knocking him, I’ve known him for years and he’s Smart. But … he’s a geek.

He was using GoToWebinar, which is a lovely inexpensive piece of software for doing online webinars. Generally, it’s set up so only the organizer and the panelists can speak in the conference call. The rest of the audience is always muted. This works better than you might think.

There’s a chat box that each participant can see on their screen, and Kyle can see them all. During the presentation we could type questions via the chat screen, and when he was done he would answer them.  I was elected the typist for our little group.

We alternately made fun of and felt sorry for Kyle during the presentation and then more so during the Q and A. A lot of the questions were from non-geeks and were programmatical in nature – not his thing and he kept apologizing for not knowing the answers. I threw in a few geeky questions he could answer and some he couldn’t.

We were still mostly engaged, and he kept trying to wrap it up after a half hour with, “Are there any more questions? Oh, looks like there’s one more,” and he’d try and answer it. After maybe 6 or 7 times doing this routine, he asked one more time in a plaintive voice, “Are there any more questions?”

The woman sitting beside me leaned over and made typing motions to me. She growled, “Yeah, what are you wearing?”


Hah hah. Long ways to go for that one line. Maybe you had to be there. 🙂